Gone but not forgotten: 10 operating systems the world left behind

AmigaOS, CP/M, OS/2, DOS -- which OS do you miss the most?

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Golly GEOS

It was two years after the debut of the Macintosh. It was the year after the first Microsoft Windows shipped -- and long before Windows was widely used. And somehow, a band of wily California programmers managed to release a credible graphical OS that would run on a 1-MHz gaming platform.

In 1986, when Commodore released a revamped version of its flagship eight-bit games machine, the company threw in a Mac-like operating system from Berkeley Softworks. The Commodore 64C could perform WYSIWYG word processing, desktop publishing and spreadsheets -- and run some kicking games to boot. And you could buy 10 of them for the price of a loaded Mac or Windows machine.

The operating system that supported this was called GEOS, and within a few years it became the third-best-selling operating system in the world. Strange, then, that few people have even heard of it these days.

GEOS suffered from its greatest strength: Because it squeezed a lot of performance out of 64K of RAM, it was associated with being a lightweight option in the ring with heavyweight opponents.

When GEOS was ported over to the PC platform in 1990, it was already a little too late. The PC version, called PC/GEOS or GeoWorks Ensemble, was actually an operating environment layered over DOS, not an operating system -- like Microsoft's Windows of the time but much more tightly coded.

But it had a killer office suite that zoomed even on 286 machines, and the company, now called GeoWorks, forged ahead into pen computing years before Microsoft. Still, GEOS never really took hold on the PC platform.

That is, except in one way that was impossible to ignore: It was the power behind the America Online client. Every time you installed one of those free trial floppy disks, you were in front of GEOS.

In that capacity, the operating system took desktops by storm, but only until Steve Case's crew jumped on the Windows and Mac OS bandwagon. GEOS meandered onto handheld computers and mobile phones and then dropped off the personal computing map in the early 1990s.

Or so we thought. But GEOS never quite went away. It popped up in the education market in 1996 under the name NewDeal (discontinued around the turn of the century), and again at its current owner Breadbox Computer, which is touting it as a way to leverage the potential of old hardware. It seems you just can't keep a good OS down.

Ahead Warp Factor 3

In any discussion of operating systems, it's easy to overlook the fact that beneath the icons, menus and graphics, operating systems are basically there to run programs on hardware. In that respect, OS/2 was an operating system to be reckoned with.

Did you want to run several DOS programs at once? A couple of Windows apps? One of the small but perfectly formed band of OS/2 apps? And did you want to do that on early 1990s hardware without seeing a Blue Screen of Death? Well, IBM had you covered.

Yes, considering it began life as the child of an uneasy marriage between IBM and Microsoft, OS/2 was pretty stable and well adjusted. Born in 1987, the young OS didn't lose its cool even in 1995, when its spoiled half-brother, Windows 95, came along and got all the attention.

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